I saw this wonderful old two-seater shabby bike for sale at a local brocante and it immediately reminded me of Madame Levavasseur who lives in our village.
She is now in her late 80s but every morning, come rain or shine, she rides her bicyclette to the local patisserie for her daily baguette. The journey is 6 kilometres of narrow, winding country lanes taking in gentle hills and slopes but she never falters. Wearing the traditional widow`s black long dress and with her long, grey hair swept high into a tight bun at the back of her neck, she arrives at the patisserie looking elegant, unflustered and as divine as always.
I always feel guilty when we pass her in the car....or perhaps I am envious?
Because if I took the same trip by bicyclette - and even being much younger, I would struggle and have to stop a hundred times to dismount and walk up the hills pushing the bike, and would no doubt arrive at the patisserie red in the face, gasping for breath and with my hair stuck on my face looking a wreck.
So what is her secret? Well, I did ask her one morning.
She told me it was a good, God-fearing life of hard work and a little tot of the local home made Normandie calvados each evening before bed! The hard work I can do , but the calva? Honestly, it is such an acquired taste! It is SO strong that you could strip the paint from a door with your breath from forty paces away!!!
Madame Levavasseur is the last person in the village to hold the license for the 'still' which comes to the village once a year after the apples have been harvested. In late Autumn her yard is a hive of activity as the local farmers arrive with their produce and whilst the old still steams away for three days amongst her chicken and geese, if the toxic smell of the alchohol is not enough to finish you off then the obligatory tastings would be! No doubt Madame receives endless cadeaux of the homemade " moonshine" for her troubles.
At the local village champetre fete in the summer all of the men in the village drink their calva straight whilst the ladies sip it with a tiny spoon that holds a little sugar. Refusing the calva is an insult to the local farmer producer who proudly walks along the trestle tables of seated villagers with his bottle. Sometimes I can manage to sneak mine to Mark but if I am under scrutiny I have to accept and down it - and then quietly slip under the table as the afternoon progresses!
Perhaps riding a bicyclette to the patisserie would be easier if I took a good hefty calva before setting off? I can just imagine the local press................
Local English lady found floundering in a ditch like a haddock. Gendarmes breathlyser machine explodes! Found ......one bicyclette and a baguette in field.